Neo-Nazis Challenge German Government

Sat. November 25, 2000 12:00 AM by Brian Decker

Berlin, Germany - Far-right demonstrators marched through central Berlin on Saturday, openly challenging efforts by German leaders to fight neo-Nazism and mobilizing a massive police operation in the capital.

Organizers staged the march, the second by the extreme right in Berlin this month, to protest government plans to outlaw the small National Democratic Party, or NPD, which German officials view as a magnet for violent neo-Nazis.

About 2,000 marchers carried German flags and signs supporting the NPD. One slogan read ``Germans, defend yourself,'' an echo of Nazi hate propaganda against German Jews before the Holocaust. A few hundreds yards from the march route, almost 1,000 people turned out for an anti-racist rally at Berlin's red-brick city hall, backed by politicians, labor unions and the capital's Jewish community.

About 3,600 police were on duty to prevent clashes between marchers and counter-protesters. There were no reports of incidents.

The far-right protesters had originally planned to march through the Brandenburg Gate, once used for processions by Nazi soldiers, but organizers changed the route to avoid the landmark arch after pressure from city officials.

Faced with surging neo-Nazi violence, German politicians and Jewish leaders have been preoccupied for months with how to combat attacks on foreigners and other minorities. Neo-Nazis have been blamed for at least three deaths in Germany this year, including the fatal beating of a Mozambican immigrant in June.

Calls to bar protests at the Brandenburg Gate and other far-right rallying points have grown since about 500 NPD supporters marched through the gate last January, causing international outrage. State law enforcement officials on Friday urged the government to draft the necessary measures.